Continuing the Artistic Practice at Home

Thursday, April 2, 2020
student stretching in kitchen

Like the rest of the world, students in the CoA+A Community are grappling with the new coronavirus landscape, isolated in homes, away from the vibrant and nurturing educational environment that the College of Arts + Architecture provides. While in some respects, the imposed remote/online class structure is particularly difficult for the hands-on, creative teaching and learning that happens in our College, at the same time artists and designers are also especially well-equipped to manage this transition. Artists and designers are necessarily adaptive. We must develop a certain comfort with change, with uncertainty and openness, in order to create characters, compositions, movements, spaces and places, new works of art. We are imaginative – seeing possibilities where others cannot. We are innovative problem-solvers who know how to look, listen, and feel for a new approach.

Here, some of our students reflect on how their creative practice and education have been challenged by COVID-19 and how they, and their faculty, have risen to the occasion. We are proud to share their thoughts.


“I’m not gonna lie – being a dancer in quarantine is tough. The two main tools that dancers use are space and physical contact, and in quarantine, both of these things have been compromised. Using my dresser as a ballet barre and doing pirouettes on carpet certainly are not ideal training circumstances. “Across the floor” has turned into “across the floor until you run into something.” That being said, lethargy is not an option, so we make do. To keep in shape, I’ve been adding new things to my workout routine to supplement the missing time in the studio. I’ve been riding a bike and am doing a lot more stretching, which I can do in any space. One of my dance professors has tasked us to develop a set of exercises that we can do every day to maintain technique, so I’ve been working on those, and another of my dance professors is still holding class over WebEx, so twice a week I get to train alongside others. One positive thing that has come out of quarantine is that dancers all over the world have been streaming free live dance classes through social media platforms. Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken classes with dancers from the Martha Graham Dance Company, American Ballet Theater, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, and the Merce Cunningham Trust. Don’t get me wrong: Online class is nowhere near as effective as real class. But the cool thing is that everyone is in the same boat, and we’re all trying to stay in shape together. Another cool thing is that dance companies are streaming old videos on their websites for a limited time, for free, since all of the concerts have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. I’ve watched things about and by Paul Taylor, Bill T. Jones, Martha Graham, Ronald K. Brown, and Alvin Ailey, so far. My creative outlet has really gone into writing. I’ve sort of been reflecting on this whole experience through some essays. I really miss dancing, but if I can keep my body moving and my imagination going in some respects, I’ll be able to stay sane. Truthfully, I don’t really have anything to complain about: I’m healthy; my family’s healthy. The rest is just waiting.”

student in front of his at home deskBLAKE BRILES, BA THEATRE, BSBA ORGANIZATIONAL MANAGEMENT ‘21

"During our last week of classes, it was very uncertain as to how a course such as this would continue in an online environment. This specific course is a hands-on Scenic Practicum credit involving various workshop skills and learning opportunities that, at first glance, some might think impossible to learn without being physically present in a working space. During the week of March 16, Professor Fraiser cancelled class in order to take a step back and create a plan, which he released to myself and the other students late Thursday, March 19 (towards the end of what would have been our class period where we were finishing a piece for our production of Pippin). In his newly created curriculum, he gave written lectures, as well as multiple links to YouTube videos, various sites, and diagrams illustrating the process we would be learning. This week, for example, our assignment was on the termination of wire rope and aircraft cable, which we use in theatre rigging to safely suspend set pieces above actors on stage. We were given the lecture and different links. Then, we were asked to answer a quiz with a single attempt on Canvas; this short quiz resembled the way Professor Fraiser would ask us questions in class as we worked, to ensure we were working accurately and safely, as a small mistake in the workshop could mean a disaster on stage. In short, my expectations as to how this class specifically would be administered from afar were vastly lower than Professor Fraiser produced. This transition makes me proud to be a part of his class, a part of such an amazing program, and proud to be a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte."

gif of student making clay potERIN NICHOLAS, BFA ART, CERAMICS '20 

"This sudden transition has had a large impact on my life and how I make art. ⁠ ⁠At first, it took a big toll on my mental health, but I am learning to use this time to improve on certain practices, and overall it has become very therapeutic!

It is important for us to continue making, no matter what it is, and throwing on the wheel has been my outlet. I have set up a temporary studio in my garage!"⁠



student at her at home deskSYDNEY NORWOOD, BM MUSIC COMPOSITION ‘23

“Dr. Sullivan (Assistant Professor of Music) is being so helpful, and I cannot thank her enough! She has taken time out of her life, even as a mom, to make videos for us to look at on our own for music theory and aural skills.

She also split our class into three groups so the classes could still be personally taught the way they were in the classroom. It is harder to do that with so many people because it will lag, that’s why she split it into groups. She also has moved everything each week to be due on Sundays to give us time to work at our own pace because of everything that is going on. She is amazing! Everyone in our class loves her!”


blue tent and projectionMICHAEL BROOKS, BA ARCHITECURE ‘23

"In childhood, blanket forts serve as an escape from the world of adults and their rules, but now they can serve as an escape from other circumstances. The project utilizes a television screen to change the backdrop at the press of a button. By altering our environment from one that is mundane and disheartening to another that is safe and playful can bring us a little hope and joy in this time of struggle."

Pictured is Michael’s winning pillow fort design for the Norwegian organization, 120 Hours, and their mini Instagram competition: How can one leave the house, without leaving the house? Michael won the international student competition! Congratulations to Michael! All students in the ARCH 1602 "Reading Writing Thinking Architecture" class participated in the contest. You can see all the UNC Charlotte entries on their Instagram account: @unccarchitecture23.

student practicing circus in treesAYLA CLAYPOOL, BA THEATRE ‘21

“Social distancing doesn’t mean giving up on our creative endeavors, it just means finding new ways to tackle them. Theatre professor Robin Witt has been super supportive. This transition to online has been really weird and difficult. I am not very good with technology. I don’t have a laptop, and I live in the middle of nowhere. I was worried about the transition as an assistant teacher for Robin Witt’s directing class. But after Zoom meetings, we figured out solutions to translating almost all of our assignments to a very open format, where students can give written and recorded responses. It’s been really awesome seeing everyone’s different takes on the assignments.

I also got the awesome and terrifying opportunity lead a discussion based on a chapter that we all read over Zoom. Robin has been making sure everyone has the opportunity to succeed in directing, despite the weird transition to the online world, by holding regular Zoom meetings and continuing to push on. The best part of our Zoom meetings with Robin is she always wears a different hat! In addition to meeting with Robin, I have kept in contact with Professor Carlos Cruz to keep up on aerial training and other artistic endeavors. I have been sending him pictures of the masks that I am making and videos of some of the new skills I’ve been working on on the trapeze. He gives me feedback and ways to be more successful through them. My best friend, Krysta Rodgen, and I even had a FaceTime training session together!"

a black and white empty airport seatingSTEPHEN MANUEL GARZA, BFA PHOTOGRAPHY ‘20

“I am employed at the local airport in my city as a baggage handler. This allows me the privilege of seeing how things unfold during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Throughout these trying times, I capture the eerie mood of a nearly empty airport terminal and the life within. Not long ago, the airport was thriving and filled with crowded walkways and long security lines.

Of late, pilots wait, in solitude, for their next flight, passengers distance themselves from one another, and various airport employees avoid the crowded break rooms lounging in the spacious terminal. I chose to capture the essence of the airport with my cell phone, which I was able to use without drawing much attention to myself. This allowed me to remain unnoticed and the people in my photographs to continue with their actions and appearance.” See more of Stephen’s photos in this feature on LENSCRATCH.


watercolor painting of a woman with dots coming out of her eyesASIA SPINKS, BFA ART, ILLUSTRATION ‘22

“When my classes started to go completely online, I was a little bit overwhelmed. I had never taken all of my classes for a semester online, so this was very new to me. Some of my professors gave multiple projects within one week, and it became harder to keep up with everything than it was when I was on campus. I found a way to overcome this though. I figured out that the reason I was feeling overwhelmed was that I did not have the motivation behind my projects like I did on campus.

I decided to create an art account on Instagram to give me that motivation to create and to expand myself as an artist. I wanted people to see what I was creating on a daily basis, from class projects to outside work. I wanted to use the tools that I was being given in my classes and incorporate those into my personal works. So far, my Instagram has been doing great. I really love creating artwork and letting people see what I am doing, as well as gaining inspiration from other talented artists. Sometimes, I get caught up in making outside artwork, but that is okay because I am so happy with what I am doing. If you ever feel like checking my Instagram out or following my Instagram it is @as_art0728. Don't be shy! I love hearing from others.” 

dancer of a in her room posingLAUREN TOOLEY, BA DANCE, BSBA MARKETING, ‘20

“Transitioning to dancing at home has been very challenging. Something about stepping into the studio was part of my mental preparation for class. With only my living room to practice in, a lot of my motivation and passion for movement has disappeared. However, Professor Tamara Williams has done a fantastic job at meeting us where we are in our adjustment process. She has videos we can watch to continue our education in African Brazilian dance if movement isn’t right for us right now.

She also has shared videos of her mentors teaching (often times in a different language!) which has given those who are comfortable an opportunity to move. Beyond my practice in African-Brazilian, I have also loved taking classes on social media from some of my favorite dancers, including Tiler Peck of New York City Ballet and Isabella Boyston of American Ballet Theatre. It is so fun to share a class with people I have admired for so long. I feel close to the dance community, even though we are all separated. Technology is a beautiful thing that is keeping us all moving together during this time."


“For me, the quarantine is not that much different from how I was living before. My studio classes continue on in my room at home, and much to my pleasure, with music I can listen to aloud. All of my illustration professors have been exceedingly supportive and eager to assist in answering my questions.

My classmates and I participate in art critiques that take place on Canvas, which has been enjoyable to finally hear the opinions of my more introverted friends. Overall, this has not been a negative experience, just different. All I can do is forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead."



photo of man woman and child


“Erik Waterkotte (Associate Professor of Print/Mixed Media) has been great about switching our Print Media class online.  Because our print studio is effectively closed, we were all a little worried about what a print class would look like without the proper facilities. Instead of trying to keep our curriculum in the realm of traditional print practices, he has transformed our lessons into artistic thinking exercises. We just finished a project responding to the Fluxus artist, George Brecht. Erik asked us to get out of our comfort zone and devise, stage, and create a video of an artistic performance of George Brecht’s event score, Exercise, circa 1961.  The premise of the event score is simple:

"Determine the limits of an object or event.
Determine the limits more precisely.
Repeat, until further precision is impossible."

But you would be surprised how deeply this assignment got us all thinking.  All of ours are sure to be completely unique, and I am looking forward to seeing what everyone else has done.  He has made online learning both rewarding and accessible, as many of us don't have studio space to practice.  It has been a tough transition, and this semester has not been what any of us had pictured, but his willingness to adapt and work with us has kept morale high and made sure to keep me involved in my artistic practices.” 

student posing in front of her weaving projectELIZABETH HAMMOCK, BFA ART, CROSS-DISCIPLINE STUDIES IN ART '20
"How have I been continuing my artistic process at home? Weaving has always been calming for me. ⁠With each line I weave, it keeps me going⁠. Working from my home is cramped, and I am missing 95% of my studio needs.

All I have is this little corner to weave in. My limbs and muscles ache from sitting on the floor as opposed to my studio bench. ⁠BUT - a perk from working at home is that I can weave at any time of day or night. Weaving and reading are keeping me sane right now."⁠



black and white photo of an empty house hallway

“I started out taking images in my surrounding area, and since I can't be outside of my neighborhood past 5 p.m. these are the only night shots I could get. This image is of my home (hallway). It was around 1 a.m. and I was completely alone in the house. It was only for a few hours, but I felt the loneliness and isolation more in that moment than I had in the past three weeks. I'm usually a lot more positive, but as time goes on I start to feel a little sadder about everything. Photography has always been a way to work through my emotions, and now, after taking those photos, I'm back to feeling positive and optimistic.